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Forum addresses future of newspapers

By : Eric Coker

Tomorrow’s newspapers will thrive by delivering local and investigative journalism to whatever platform a consumer desires, an alumna and former Gannett Co. executive told the Binghamton University Forum.

Susan Clark-Johnson graduated in 1967 and later oversaw dozens of national publications  as president of Gannett’s newspaper division before retiring in May. Clark-Johnson spoke about the future of newspapers at the Binghamton Club at the Forum’s second breakfast program of the academic year.

“We stand for a free, open and honest press that is the very cornerstone of a free society,” she said. “What does happen to democracy if newspapers fall by the wayside?

Who will credibly shine the light on dark corners?”

Clark-Johnson said the newspaper industry must work to transform itself in an age in which the Internet is growing, core readers are getting older and economic woes are affecting advertising.

She used Oreos as an example of something that has changed with the times. In 1999, she said, Americans were asked what products they wanted to see survive the 21st century. Oreos were No. 1, followed by newspapers. Even though Oreos won’t turn 100 until 2012, she said, the product has expanded to Double Stuf, 100 Calorie Pack, Mini-Oreos and Golden Oreos, among others.

“The makers of Oreos saw the need to keep up with consumer demand,” Clark-Johnson said. “We don’t just have one Oreo anymore; we have dozens.

“There’s a message in this comparison,” she said. “We live in a world of niches. If there’s an Oreo for every taste, maybe there should be a newspaper or trusted newspaper source or website for every type of consumer.”

Newspapers can adapt by moving from the once-a-day for seven days printed paper to a product that uses print, the Web and other platforms such as cell phones, she said. Videos, blogs and links to other publications also will help readers.

“The print product becomes one arrow in a company’s news and information quiver,” she said.

For print to survive in the future, Clark-Johnson said newspapers must become smaller, focus on local news and likely cost more. That will likely shrink the print audience to its “most loyal core,” baby boomers, while the Web reaches younger people. But even with greater cost, the newspaper will have good value in a time of rising cable and Internet bills, Clark-Johnson said.

“A full week of a home-delivered newspaper now costs the same as a Starbucks vente latte,” she said.

Even in troubled and changing times, people remain hungry for news, Clark-Johnson said, so the newspaper of the future will be better and more vital than ever.

“We’re still necessary and we still matter,” she said. “In an era of cell-phone pictures, YouTube, Facebook, Sirius/XM, 24/7 screaming cable talking heads, bloggers and on and on, it’s the newspaper that for all its flaws reaches the most people every day with the unmatched credibility of decades behind it.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08